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China trade: Berry blue over access

A REVIEW of the horticulture priority list for market access to China is needed, Australia’s fed-up blueberry growers say.

Australian Blueberry Growers Association president Greg McCulloch says producers “can’t even get to first base” in negotiating access because the berries are not on the Department of Agriculture’s priority list.

“I just came back from Asia and had a stream of Chinese companies asking when they can get Australian blueberries — they can get them from elsewhere but they want Australian,” Mr McCulloch said.

“They just can’t believe we’re not even starting — they tend to think it (the delay) is the Chinese Government side but it’s the Australian Government.”

Horticulture Innovation Australia approved the blueberry application as a negotiating priority in August last year. But it’s for the department to actually list blueberries as a priority and start negotiations.

Mr McCulloch said a commodity could sit on the list for an average of nine years before access was granted, and reckoned blueberry access was still 13 years away.

“The potential trade is quite large and we’d like to be there,” he said.

“Free-trade agreements don’t give agricultural commodities any access at all — it’s the non-tariff barriers that hold you back.”

A spokeswoman for Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said negotiating access was “always a lengthy and complex process”, with agricultural negotiators working off the priority list of products.

“This process has seen the Government deliver access outcomes for table grapes, cherries and the summer-fruit industry, with access for Australian nectarines obtained in June 2016,” she said.

“The Government is working to conclude access to China for additional varieties of Australian summer fruit.”

The spokeswoman said the Government had successfully negotiated blueberry access for India in 2015, and was working on access to Japan.

Labor’s trade spokesman Jason Clare and agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon last week raised the issue in Canberra, urging the Government to get moving.

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